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Do you “belong” at work, or just “fit in”?

Do you belong at work, or just fit in?  (Photo: M. Lowinger)

Do you belong at work, or just fit in? (Photo: M. Lowinger)

Work, work, work…

There’s lots of different types workplaces: small, large, private, public, commercial, not-for-profit…

But whatever type of workplace you work for, whatever type of work you do, there’s something we all have in common: the need to get along and fit in with our colleagues.

Workplace relationships are so important to our success at work, and our health at work too.

Confrontations with colleagues can cause distress and impact on our mental health.

So fitting in seems so important.

Fitting in is not all it’s cracked up to be…

According to Randy Conley from Leading with Trust, fitting in is not all it’s cracked up to be. Rather, a sense of belonging is the real goal, the real way to grow at work.

He writes in his blog Five Ways Leaders Help Others Belong, Not Just Fit In:

“Fitting in is about assessing a situation and adapting who you are – your personality and behaviors – in order to feel accepted. Belonging is about freedom – freedom from having to change in order to be accepted and being valued and respected for being who you are.”

So it seems fitting in is restrictive and inhibits growth, while belonging is expansive and encourages growth.

If belonging is the goal, how do you go about getting it?

The Five Ways Leaders Help Others Belong, Not Just Fit In offers very practical strategies for leaders to help their people find a sense of belonging.

But what is it individuals can do for themselves to enhance their sense of belonging to their workplace?

Here are 5 ideas I’ve come up with that may help people develop a sense of belonging at work:

Develop ownership: Find a way to initiate a project, even a small one, and run with it. Drive it to completion and publicise your success. Owning this small piece of the organisation can help your feelings of ownership with the wider organisation.

Find ways to participate: Workplaces often have committees and activities to join in all shapes and sizes…some are based on workplace health, some on fundraising, some on community support and sponsorship. Find one that suits you and put your hand up. Or if there is nothing suitable start your own sports team, fund raising initiative, or whatever else takes your fancy. Becoming involved and making a difference will bring much more meaning to your time at work.

Be curious about your colleagues: Try to find out more about your colleagues as people rather, than as their roles in the organisation. Maybe try to show a genuine interest in your coworkers family, weekend activities or hobbies, but recognise that not everyone will want to share. This can help you start to build a real rapport with you colleagues and help you build a genuine peer network based on respect rather than peer group pressure.

Say thank you: Go out of you way to thank people who help you out. Don’t only thank people personally, thank them in team meetings or in other public occasions where suitable. Be imaginative in thanking people. Depending on the size if the favour you may write a card, bake cookies, or bring a bunch of flowers. Thanking people is good for your spiritual health and another way to build rapport and healthy relationships.

Adopt a solution focus: Challenge yourself to find a solution for every complaint, issue or problem you raise. This will help you focus on the positive, remain solution focussed and empowered. Put your hand up to help implement each solution you come up and soon you may find yourself a highly sought after “go-to” person. That’s likely to bring with it a great sense of belonging.

Have you tried any of these strategies? How did they work? What other ideas are there to encourage a sense of belonging at work? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you…


  1. Jocelyn – I love the way you extended these ideas about belonging to the individual level. In my article I chose the perspective of what leaders can do to create a sense of belonging, but you identified a very important point – there is an element of personal responsibility we all have to create our own sense of belonging.

    I appreciate your insights.


    • Thankyou for your comments Randy.
      Yes it did strike me we have a level of personal responsibility, and can’t just wait for these things to happen, or for our leaders to facilitate. Thankyou for your article which provided the inspiration for this.
      If you have any other thoughts on the personal responsibility angle, please let me know. I’d love to hear them and add to what I’ve already come up with.

  2. Reblogged this on Do you see what I see? and commented:
    I like this post as those of us who work know its all about compromise and also the need for approval, recognition, respect and support from work colleagues, or there is no formation of a bond with those you work with.

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